(The news item on TV One on this topic, shown on the 26th February, indicated that Key wished to establish a think tank which would include former NZ ambassador to the US, Jim Bolger – and an old news clip of Bolger shoulder to shoulder with former President Bill Clinton was shown).
Key enlists brains trust to help take on world
By IRENE CHAPPLE, ANTHONY HUBBARD – Sunday Star Times | Sunday, 25 February 2007
National John Key wants to create a think-tank of experts – expected to include former Prime Minister Jim Bolger – to educate him on foreign affairs and combat Prime Minister Helen Clark’s extensive knowledge of the portfolio.
Key, whose popularity has soared since he took over leadership of the party, told the Sunday Star-Times he was going to set up a “group of very experienced New Zealanders, people who have retired from the ministry as well as other former leaders of the party and the like”.
Key said he had discussed the idea with Bolger, prime minister from 1990-97 and former New Zealand ambassador to the United States, and was hopeful he would join. He also wanted former Prime Minister Jenny Shipley to be involved but said no formal requests had yet been made.
Through a spokesperson, Clark, who chaired the Foreign Affairs select committee in the mid ’80s and helped push through the nuclear free legislation, said she was “amused” by the suggestion and “anything would be better than relying on (National Foreign Affairs spokesman) Murray McCully”.
Clark is expected to return to Washington this year after being invited to meet United States president George Bush.
During Clark’s first visit to the US five years ago, then-secretary of state Colin Powell described the two countries as “very, very, very close friends”.
Key is visiting Washington in June and is expecting to meet officials and politicians from the Bush administration. The trip is arranged by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade and Key said the likelihood of meeting Bush was “pretty low”.
In October Key will visit Beijing and London and he also plans to visit most of the South Pacific countries over the next 18 months.
Key has already been to Australia and met Prime Minister John Howard for the second time when Howard was in New Zealand this month.
Key, a former merchant banker who entered politics four years ago and became National Party leader last November, denied he was weak in foreign affairs.
However, “I might say I’m less knowledgeable or less experienced. (Clark’s) pathway to politics is through foreign affairs… my entry has been through the economic front”.
Gerald Hensley, who had a 20-year diplomatic career for New Zealand and last year released a book about his experiences, said it was important for Key to take advice from a wide range of people and ensure “there is no hankering to the past”.
Hensley said a group of advisers was a good idea but foreign affairs policy wouldn’t “stick” unless there was wide support. “There is no point sitting in a darkened room, you have to consult widely,” he said.
Key said the group would be like a think-tank and “we all come from natural historical points of strength. I don’t feel I won’t be able to make the right calls in (foreign affairs), but I accept there will be an area of growth”. He said in the “last four and a half years I’ve been in parliament I think I’ve shown that I can grow and learn things”.
Key has bounced up the polls since being appointed leader, rating 27 per cent to Clark’s 32 per cent in the TVOne Colmar Brunton poll released last weekend.